Buttergate: No one wants a lazy cow

As we all know, the pandemic has forced the world inside and people are finding things to do in their homes. Two of the top activities have been home renovating and baking.

Everyone began baking bread, and cakes and cookies. And key baking ingredients such as flour, yeast and butter became in short supply.

You may recall last spring — so long ago — one woman went viral on Twitter because she posted a request for people who were new to baking to PLEASE STOP baking so she could continue to enjoy HER bread, which she needed. She was labelled a Karen and Twitter laughed and laughed. And kept baking.

Meanwhile dairy farmers have been hard pressed to keep up with demand for butter, because everyone knows things, especially baked things, are better with butter.

But Canadian dairy farmers are a crafty lot and are now being accused of altering cows’ diets in order to up their butter production. Yes, it’s Canadian Buttergate.

Question: Have you noticed lately that your butter at room temperature is harder to spread? I thought it was just the cooler weather, but no. Apparently many Canadians have taken to social media to complain that it is getting harder and harder to spread butter kept at room temperature. It is not softening.

The accusation is that dairy farmers have been increasing the amount of palm oil in their cow’s diets, an accusation hotly denied by the industry.

Now palm oil is legal in dairy feed. It is said to give the cows energy. And who wants a lazy cow? Actually it gives them energy to produce more butter fat content, therefore more butter.

The theory is that the palm oil additive has been upped significantly, enough to cause changes in butter texture.

NPR reports that “the Dairy Farmers of Canada addressed the recent reports of hard butter in a statement, saying that it’s unaware of any significant changes in dairy production or processing but that “our sector is working with experts to further assess these reports.”

Yes, they are gong to investigate. Themselves. That always goes well. Will they be found innocent of palming cows?

Now this all came to the surface from a column in the Globe and Mail on February 20, 2021, from Julie Van Rosendaal, a cookbook author, who was noticing that her room temperature butter no longer easily folded into the dry ingredients. She nosed around, talked to some people and palm oil kept coming up.

As she astutely pointed out, what goes into the cow has a big effect on what comes out of the cow.

She says that at the beginning of the pandemic the closing of schools and restaurants brought demand for dairy products down and there was a higher than usual cull of dairy cows. But then Canadians began connecting with their inner Julia Child and demand for dairy products rose significantly. You can’t instantly produce a full grown cow, so farmers had to find someway to increase production. Therefore it would make sense to feed them a high calorie diet to produce more milk fats.

It is possible to get butter from palm oil free cows. Van Ronsedaal advises that a new program would only allow the label “grass fed” for products free of palm oils. But they won’t be cheap. We pay more for organic everything, and butter and milk will be no exception.

However, the problem may fix itself, because there has been such a demand for palm oil, that, yes, you guessed it, there are supply problems.

We may yet return to the before times, when lazy cows produced soft butter.

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